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Stirring up memories


Bye-bye Buffalo
March 2, 2005

Sure, Peggy and Bill Wildhagen love to sit in their sunny Bainbridge living room and watch the weather report when the focus is on the “lake effect snows burying Buffalo, New York.”  They smile and know they’ve been there and done that.

            But, then, Peggy and Bill are always smiling and always happy that they are watching the weather in Bainbridge, and they have been for the twelve years that they have lived here.

            Just ask either one of them.  And while you are at it, get them to tell you about moving to Bainbridge.  Or let me tell you.

            When retirement time rolled around for these two—Bill from a dental supply company, Peggy after 41 years on the night shift as a registered nurse—they looked south.   They made a couple of winter odysseys and made up their minds to leave the cold winters behind, even though it meant leaving the two sons, Billy and Karl.  (Daughter Karen lived all over they world as her husband, Ed Budney pursued a military career.)

            They’d visited around in Florida and had about decided on South Carolina, when one lucky day they picked up a magazine named The Senior Beacon and saw an ad for Bainbridge, Georgia as a great place to retire.  Sounded good to both of them, so they had the American Automobile Association draw up a route to bring them through the First Port City.   And bye-bye Buffalo!

            “We knew right away,” Peggy explains and Bill nods agreement.  They walked through Willis Park on a lovely spring day.  “Strangers came up and introduced themselves, welcomed us, and we knew.  It was like going to Eden—flowers, and no snow!”

            They certainly did.  They left the park and drove to a realtor’s office—a few months later, they moved in.  The Post-Searchlight told about them just after they decided to make the move.  It’s great to update that report about these Bainbridge boosters.

            Peggy and Bill aren’t just from Buffalo, both were born there. They lived in different parts of town and went to different high schools, but both went to work at Freddie’s Doughnuts Shop.  (“The best place in town for doughnuts,” Peggy says.)  Bill was in the back making the goodies and Peggy worked up front selling them.  Bill was a mature sixteen, but Peggy, at fifteen, wasn’t exactly a legal worker.  When the inspectors came by, she’d run and hide.

            I asked if it was love at first sight.  And it wasn’t.  Both of them had their minds on the future, and on what was going on in the world, for it was the turbulent time of World War II.

            When Bill turned seventeen, he joined the Navy.  Victory in Europe had been declared, but we were still at war, and Bill wanted to serve.  Soon, he was at sea on the U.S.S. Huntington visiting ports in the Mediterranean.  And guess what Bill did aboard that ship.   He was a baker!

            And he still bakes.  Fresh and fragrant loaves of bread graced the kitchen counter, the day I visited.

            Back in Buffalo, Peggy did her part.  She’d planned to be a nurse since she was a tiny girl, hospitalized with appendicitis.  She, along with 164 other young women, applied at the Edward J. Meyer Hospital School of Nursing.  In the fall, she was one of the sixty-five new student nurses.  But she was more than a student nurse.  She was an Army Cadet Nurse.  She signed up before the Allies achieved total victory.  Her obligation was to serve as long as the United States was at war.  The war ended, of course, before Peggy finished her three-year training.  Nevertheless, it was always her intention to go in the Army Nurse Corps and see the world.  Except—

            Except that young Bill Wildhagen had finished his stint in the Navy and was back over at Freddie’s turning out doughnuts and other delicacies.  (Ask him about the peanut sticks—yummy!)  One fateful night, some of the student nurses got hungry and in bad need of a snack.

            “I know a fellow who works in the best shop in town, and we can get a dozen for 15 cents.”  They were off to Freddie’s.  This time, it was love. 

            “Will you go out with me?” Bill whispered to Peggy as the gang of student nurses headed for the door.  They married on June 24, 1950.

            The family flourished in Buffalo, or actually the adjacent town of Tonawanda, about a block and a half from the Niagara River.  Peggy continued her night-shift nursing.  (“It’s a great way to raise a family.”)  It’s hard to believe, but she tells me she was bored. So, she went back to school.  In 1968, with a full-time job and two teenagers at home, Peggy earned her Bachelor’s degree from D. Youville College—and that’s not all the busy lady did!  She and Bill also welcomed a new baby boy into the family!

            Meanwhile, Bill worked at Freddie’s—sometimes seven days a week for twelve or fourteen hours.  He went to college, too, Erie County Community College.  Then he shifted his career, going to work for the Patterson Dental Company for twenty-one years.

            Was moving to Bainbridge a good decision?  I think so.  Peggy knows so.  She’s kept the advertisement, the brochure and a very special letter written by Mayor Reynolds welcoming them to the community.  They’ve loved every minute since they’ve arrived.

            Peggy recalls their very first visitor was Alfred Rogers who took them to the Chamber of Commerce breakfast and made sure they had plenty of new friends.  And Pauline Cooper was just behind Alfred in welcoming  them.

            Retirement doesn’t mean sitting around, at least not for the Wildhagens.  Bill is busy with his computer and photography.  Peggy—well, the list goes on.  They attend the First United Methodist Church; Peggy is in the Chancel Choir and Heavenly Sunlight Singers and a member of the Keenagers. She’s busy with the Historical Society, the Pilot Club, the American Legion Auxiliary—I think I’m missing some.  And this is all when they are not in the yard tending to the herb garden.

            There’s still time to cook.  They take turns, but Peggy says Bill “still thinks he’s cooking for the young men on the ship!”  The freezer is full.

            Peggy shared this recipe that comes from a friend in Buffalo.  I asked how long these tasty pickles would keep in the refrigerator.

            “Around here?  About two days.”  But covered, they should make it longer than that.  They are excellent!

Buffalo Refrigerated Sweet Pickles


6 cups sliced medium cucumbers

1 large onion, sliced thin

1/2 green pepper, sliced thin

Mix and do not heat:

2 cups sugar

1 cup white vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

            Pour the liquid over the cucumber mix.  Put into plastic containers and refrigerate for 12 hours.


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